A strategic plan outlines the steps to achieve a desired future, and the process of creating that plan can provide an invaluable opportunity for the exchange of ideas and consensus among your management team and your staff. Defining your shared vision and then planning based on that desired outcome is the essence of strategic planning. With that in mind, allow me to share with you eight gaffes that should be avoided while outlining your strategic plan.

The time frame of the plan is too long.

First, strategic plans need to remain laser-focused on accomplishing strategic priorities in a timely manner. The plans also need to be frequently refreshed to keep them from becoming stale and to keep the organization energized on plan execution.

Long-term planning certainly has its place in a corporate world, but shorter operational plan horizons, going only 12 months out, allow organizations to utilize valuable current information and remain engaged in delivering the plan milestones.

Too many strategic goals.

We all fall victim to this mistake. Organizations often have a laundry list of goals. Dreaming up goals is never an issue. Instead, the issue is having the discipline to narrow down prioritized goals to a manageable and achievable level.

Five goals is a good number to consider as a maximum. When you factor in each goal that will lead to a sequence of programs, initiatives, activities and deliverables to be managed and implemented throughout the organization, it’s easy to see how a long list of goals can inhibit implementation success.

Goals are not tied to measurable outcomes.

Organizational goals should be constructed in terms of outcomes. They should be defined in such a way that they can be measured and managed throughout the layers of the organization to propel action and achievement from those involved.

Employees are unaware of the goals.

Believe it or not, this can be a huge problem in many organizations. When the corporate planning process fails to consider the individuals who will actually implement the plan, breakdowns happen and desired outcomes are rarely attained.

Key vendors and partners not considered.

By communicating organizational goals to key vendors and partners, much needed buy-in and assistance can be gained from these external parties to achieve desired outcomes. Think about it. Are they not critical to your long-term success?

Organizational culture is overlooked.

The corporate planning process must consider the organizational culture. Without this, it is impossible to fulfill the organization’s potential to dominate within their marketplace. Culture determines how the organization functions and how work will be completed.

Operational planning is overlooked.

An effective corporate planning process allows the organization to plan strategically at the enterprise level and then operationally at the business unit level with each part supporting the other.

Failing to reach all the way down through the organizational layers is a common problem with corporate planning processes. Strategic planning, to be effective, must address the entire business ecosystem — from top to bottom.

Customer value is overlooked.

At the end of the day, it is all about the customer. Customer-centric planning puts your No. 1 stakeholder — the end customer — at the forefront of the organization’s activities and goals.

By creating goals that reflect the type of value the organization can create for the customer, you’ll put a face to the name and more effectively connect members of the organization with the desired outcomes.

We have entered into a forever changed business climate. Put another way, the new normal is here and here to stay. Despite all the distractions we encounter every day, we must never lose sight of the fact that we must spend more time on the business rather than in the business, and it all starts with a strategic plan.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at tfernley@fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Philadelphia

There was a little disappointment at first.

After 37 years operating as Bayada Nurses, company founder and President Mark Baiada stood before members of his nursing staff and relayed the news: The word “nurses” was to be eliminated from the company’s name. As of January 2012, the company would operate as Bayada Home Health Care Inc.

It wasn’t a decision taken lightly by Baiada or his management team. But it was a decision they felt compelled to make.

“My wife is a nurse, we’ve been a nursing company throughout, so to drop ‘nurses’ when it had been in there for so long, I think there was a little disappointment,” Baiada says. “We still have nurses, but it’s not part of our official name now.”

Baiada and his team made the change as part of a wider rebranding initiative, recognizing that the scope of in-home health care services offered by the company had grown beyond nursing to include services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

The challenge for Baiada and his team was to unify employees in the many different disciplines around the company’s core mission and goals and to ensure that every employee, no matter the occupational field, felt accepted by and engaged with the rebranded organization.

“We created a new logo, with a larger dove icon, to symbolize the Bayada Way, a document which lists our guiding mission and values,” Baiada says.

“But we also wanted it to come to symbolize the extent of our services and the fact that we were doing more than nursing. The culture of excellence that had grown up around our nursing staff — we wanted to be sure our clients associated the same levels of compassion, excellence and reliability with all of our services.

“It was really a case of wanting to be fair to all parties.”

Communicate clearly

Baiada says the initial resistance to losing the word “nurses” in the company’s name was motivated by nostalgia more than anything else. Ultimately, the nursing staff wanted reassurance that the company still valued its nursing heritage and would preserve it alongside the effort to identify the Bayada name with a wider service offering.

Baiada took steps to reassure the nursing staff that the nursing practice would continue to be held in high esteem within the company. But with nurses seeking reassurance over their future role within the company and employees in other disciplines enjoying the recognition implied in the company’s new name, Baiada stepped back.

He surveyed the situation and saw the opportunity to use the rebranding initiative as a means of strengthening the connection between every employee and the mission of the company.

With a properly crafted message, he could renew the sense of purpose throughout the organization, re-energizing the entire workforce, regardless of role or background.

With more than 18,000 employees and operations in 26 states, Baiada encouraged a method of cascading communication that started at the company’s headquarters, eventually reaching all of the organization’s local offices with multiple forms of communication.

“We had a series of meetings, we rolled out a new website to let people know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and we also sent out some mailings,” Baiada says. “We had a lot of positives from the communications office, which handled the communication all the way down to the local offices, which then handed things out and supported the local nurses and field staff.

“If we had a meeting with 20 people, we’d have an introduction. If people couldn’t make it, they’d get something in the mail.”

Every move Baiada and his leadership team made had an eye toward rallying the workforce around the guiding company principles of compassion, excellence and reliability. That included altering the outward appearance of all employees by outfitting them with new uniforms. Bayada issued new scrubs to nurses and new uniforms to the other field employees, all bearing the company’s new logo.

“Everyone received new name tags and new uniforms with the new logo,” Baiada says. “It was another way to mark the change and another way to get it out in front of everyone. Almost everyone got something with the new logo on it.”

Ultimately, Baiada wanted to make the change real to everyone in the company. He wanted to immerse everyone in the new Bayada brand. If employees feel connected to the company’s future, they’ll be able to take more of a sense of ownership in the company’s mission and goals, which will strengthen the culture in turn.

“What you have to remember is, Enron had a beautiful mission statement, but they didn’t follow it,” Baiada says. “You need a sense of commitment that what you are putting down on paper and communicating to everyone is something that you are following continuously.

“If you aren’t following it, you don’t have integrity. And you want your people to agree to it, so you want to get a dialogue going and keep it going. What is in your heart also needs to be in their hearts.”

Start a dialogue

Baiada began to facilitate dialogue well before the rebranding initiative took effect.

If you want your employees to own the change, you have to let them buy in to the process.

“We conducted focus groups with our employees and additional focus groups with people outside the company,” Baiada says. “We conducted focus groups with clients and customers at-large and referral sources and also did surveys. What we really tried to determine was the key characteristics that are important.

“What we found was the research reiterated that the Bayada Way was pretty much on target as a set of guiding principles. When people needed help, they wanted compassion and reliability.”

But generating a renewed focus on the company’s guiding principles was only the first step toward fostering employee engagement. Baiada wanted to engage his people on a continuing basis, allowing employees throughout the Bayada organization to have a say in how the company embodies its foundational principles.

The engagement that employees feel in your brand, mission and values will show in the relationships they build with clients and customers.

“Happy employees and satisfied employees make for happier clients, which means we get more business,” Baiada says. “We’ve brought an analytic statistician on staff, and the research shows that when we compare our employee satisfaction, our client satisfaction and our business growth, they are highly correlated. They say it’s hard to find a good tomato, and it’s also hard to find a good nurse or therapist.

“So when we get them, we have to take care of them. We need to focus them, give them a voice, respect and honor them. If you respect them and engage your people, you’ll be able to build a team that can meet your clients’ needs.”

Engagement is about stimulating the thought process within your people. You want your employees to frequently think about the end users of your company’s product or service and how those people benefit from it.

“Knowing the stories of the people you serve helps employees put a human face on the work they do each day, and it also helps spur ideas around the subject of building better customer service.

“A success for us is when a client improves to the point that they don’t need our services anymore,” Baiada says. “We share those kinds of client stories, and we’re continually trying to put them in writing and record them on video. It’s all about getting that message out there, even in ways you might not immediately realize.

“For instance, all the photography on our website is images of actual clients and employees. We don’t use stock photos or actors.”

Though he can’t be everywhere at once, Baiada also recognizes the value of a visible, accessible organizational leader in maintaining a dialogue with employees and reinforcing the mission and values.

“You have to start out with an open door and a willingness to let people in,” he says. “If you have a story to share or an issue to address, here is my phone, here is my email. If you find something isn’t right around here or you feel something is going on that is disconnected from the Bayada Way, let me know.

“Hopefully, you’ll be able go to whoever is in charge of your area first, but if you need to contact me directly, I’m accessible.”

Hire for the culture

Achieving buy-in with existing employees is critical to the success of any effort to rebrand the company or refocus on your cultural values. But every bit as important as your existing employees is the employees you don’t have yet.

The reinforcement or erosion of your cultural values can hinge in large part on the quality of the hires you make and whether those people can align with the foundational principles of your organization.

As the leader of an organization that provides in-home care to clients who might be struggling to overcome disease or disability, Baiada believes his company’s culture of compassion is essential to success and is a critical pass/fail measurement in the hiring process.

Job candidates are presented with Bayada literature emphasizing compassion as a core value alongside operational excellence and reliability.

“We try to be clear in our materials about who we are and what we stand for,” Baiada says. “A lot of people take a job based on what they think it is or isn’t, and when they start working at the job, it’s not the same thing that they expected.

“For example, if a person is working primarily for money, this really isn’t the place for them. If you don’t like working for the clients and serving them, you’re probably not going to like the job.”

To develop a deep understanding of a job candidate’s behavior and thought patterns, you need to put the person in a work situation during the interview. Bayada’s team asks scenario-based questions and tries to uncover real-life examples of on-the-job situations in which the candidate demonstrated an adherence to Bayada’s core values.

Baiada says reliability is often the hardest to gauge, and if there is a hiring mistake to be made, it will often involve hiring a person who otherwise fits the mold of what you’re looking for but has reliability issues.

“Some of our care is on a one-on-one basis, so if someone doesn’t show up to work, we have a crisis on our hands in trying to find a replacement,” Baiada says. “You can get a feeling for compassion based on how someone behaves in the interview process. You can measure excellence in their performance.

“But the reliability factor can be harder to gauge.

“Ultimately, if you’re serving people, you want to find people who are motivated by serving people. That’s one of the biggest keys to continuing to strengthen our culture moving forward. It’s that focus on people. We like helping people, and the job can’t satisfy you if that doesn’t push your buttons.”

How to reach: Bayada Home Health Care Inc., (856) 231-1000 or www.bayada.com

 

The Baiada file

History: Founded Bayada Home Health Care Inc. in 1975 as RN Homecare. The company was subsequently renamed Bayada Nurses, and then rebranded as Bayada Home Health Care on Jan. 17, 2012 — the company’s 37th anniversary.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

It is all about people. It is getting the right people connected and capable of serving our clients, and in making the Bayada Way come true as they carry out their responsibilities. We have a lot of people who make that happen each day.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

In our system, you have to be compassionate, excellent and reliable. If you can model that and make that come true, we’ll be in a great position to do what our clients require.

Baiada on keeping an eye open for small-scale factors that can make a big difference to the culture: I am a nut like that, personally. I hope we have enough people here like that, to keep things going forward. I am kind of a stickler for connecting the details to the bigger picture. And that takes constant attention. You are always trying to draw a connection. You’re always asking if everything is coherent and connected, if there are any disconnects. Is there any way we can be doing things better? It is a matter of being attentive, like coach, teacher or chef. You have to be attentive to it all, with an eye for improvement.

Published in Philadelphia

Sage North America was a company in hiding — or at least its name was.

When Pascal Houillon was appointed president and CEO of Sage North America in 2011, the specialty software solutions company was known to the North American marketplace by many different brand names. But “Sage” wasn’t one of them.

Depending on which of Sage’s products or services you used, you might have known Sage by any number of names — and your experience as a customer might have varied greatly from brand to brand.

Houillon, who had led various global regions for parent company Sage Group PLC since 1997, knew Sage North America would never leverage all of its resources and realize its full potential under such a fragmented setup.

“In my vision, I wanted to bring this group of brands together as a singular company with a consistent customer service experience and a consistent way to go to market,” Houillon says. “The flag that I’ve tried to focus everyone on is the Sage flag, the Sage brand. Right after I took this position, we dropped all of the product brands, which we have become known for throughout North America, and merged everything into one master brand called Sage.”

But it wasn’t as simple as a name change for the 3,000 employees working for Sage in the U.S. and Canada. To sow the seeds of change and allow them to take root, Houillon needed to define what the unified Sage brand would embody, the vision for the company moving forward, and then communicate that vision in a manner that would create belief and buy-in across the entire Sage North America footprint.

Houillon recognized from the outset that it would be no small task.

“It’s a big transformation when you’re taking a group of companies with their own specific products and characteristics and merging them together,” he says. “You’re trying to form one company with one common customer service experience.”

Define the brand

As a veteran leader within the Sage organization, Houillon had spearheaded branding initiatives in other countries and regions. Apart from an emphasis on the Sage name itself, the other main component lacking in Sage’s North American branding approach was a focus on customer solutions.

Because Sage had become so fragmented, the company had aligned along product lines. Each segment of the business was driven by the production, promotion and sales of a particular product.

In a commodity-driven business, that approach works. But in the solutions-driven, customer-focused business that Houillon wanted to create, it missed the mark.

“We believe the Sage brand should mean we give our customers the freedom to achieve their visions for their own businesses,” Houillon says. “It is not about software or technology. It is not about the product by itself. Our customers are often small and midsized businesses that don’t have their own IT departments, so the Sage brand has to be a customer brand.

“It is not about promising that we are going to change the world with our technology. It is that we are going to give our customers the means to achieve their own goals and ambitions.”

Houillon and his leadership team pared Sage’s 11 North American business units down to four product lines, all focused on delivering customer solutions instead of promoting and selling a particular product.

“The first line is small business, the second one is midsized business, the third one is our credit card processing line, and the fourth line centers on verticals of a specific area or industry, such as IT solutions in the construction industry,” he says. “That was an important step in moving the focus from products to understanding the needs of our customers.”

Changing the field of play was a critical initial step, because the following steps focused on shifting the mentality of several thousand employees, who had been cultured to sell product, not find solutions.

“In a product-focused organization, you focus on developing your products, and after that, your salespeople focus on selling the product as it is,” Houillon says. “When you move to an organization and a vision that is more focused on marketing and customer solutions, you’re not developing a product and then figuring out how to sell it.

“You’re first analyzing the customer’s needs, then you move into the product development phase. Then you focus on the types of services you’re going to develop around that product. That is why this type of process takes time. We’ve been on this journey for well over a year.”

Manage the process

To help redefine the Sage brand, Houillon needed to redefine his company’s connection to the marketplace in North America. Shortly after Houillon took over, he helped initiate a series of projects aimed at defining a new beginning for the company.

“I asked Sage employees from different levels in the organization to work on different projects, and in the end, we would select the three to six different projects that we would ultimately work on and move forward with,” Houillon says. “In total, about 150 people were involved in the different projects, along with others who gave some inside information about their department to our project teams. It was really incredible how people stepped up and invested their time in these projects.”

Houillon and his management team ultimately selected four projects out of the 11 total projects. Sage North America focused on those projects as the initial steps that would redefine the brand.

By involving employees in the projects and initiatives that would shape the future of the company, Houillon spurred the new Sage brand off the boardroom table and into three-dimensional reality.

For several thousand employees, the idea of a new, unified Sage brand began to move from an abstract concept to something living and breathing. It was a critical step that, in many ways, served as the ignition switch for the entire process, as employees took a sense of ownership in what Sage would become.

“In the beginning, I think you have a lot of nostalgia,” Houillon says. “People are hesitant to drop the name and the brand that they have been working for and possibly have been working for over a long period of time. I’d say, for the first six months, people were excited by the change but also afraid of the change.

“Everybody wants to change, but nobody wants to have to deal with the consequences of the change.”

Houillon realized he needed to give his people an opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns over the elimination of the product brands in favor of a unified Sage brand. He couldn’t minimize how his people felt, but at same time, he couldn’t allow nostalgia and a fear of change to derail progress.

To Houillon, it wasn’t a matter of neutralizing the emotional attachment employees felt toward the old brands. It was a matter of taking that emotional attachment and moving it to the Sage brand.

“People have to have the ability to speak up and express themselves, because it is normal that they’d have an emotional link to the previous brand,” he says. “Having that emotional connection isn’t a bad thing. It’s a matter of viewing that emotional connection in a new way, with a focus on the Sage brand. I wanted to take those emotions and move them to Sage.”

As the initial rebranding projects began to bear fruit, the new, unified Sage brand developed an increasing profile with the company’s customer base. As customer feedback started to filter in, Houillon used it to deepen his employees’ connection to the new brand.

“After a bit of time, the employees start to see that the Sage brand awareness is rising, they see the feedback from customers, and they see that the customers like the change,” Houillon says.

“Previously, customers had to deal with several product brands, and now they’re dealing with a single brand for everything. The customer adapts to it, the employees see that, and they see it is a positive reaction.

“I remember getting some emails from customers who told me it was about time that Sage reorganized under one brand. They were tired of having all these different products with different names. When an employee sees that type of reaction from customers, it is much easier for your people to see the company is moving in the right direction.”

Keep communicating

Once employees started buying in to the concept of a unified Sage brand, Houillon needed to keep the momentum going through his communication strategy. To help strengthen the effort, he hired an internal communication specialist, eventually developing internal communications into a department of three.

The internal communications department has become responsible for developing messages that are initially rolled out at the local level, at each of Sage’s offices throughout North America, and then combined with large-scale communications from Houillon and his team at the North American headquarters.

“In our meetings, every quarter, I will speak, as will some of my colleagues,” Houillon says. “We’ll have about 20 different locations where everybody participates from their own location.

“It was critical for us to change the way we have internal communication, because it used to center on a single product line and now it is more of a global company communication. It is critical for me to explain the vision, explain where we are and ask for feedback from Sage employees. I wanted to be genuine and transparent, because a lot of the time, it is about what people see.”

Houillon also used his communication opportunities to focus people on the value proposition of the Sage brand — in other words, explaining why it is advantageous to customers and, in turn, to Sage to remake Sage as a unified brand.

Sage’s leaders had previously tried to straddle the fence between maintaining the product brands and moving toward a unified brand, but old habits are hard to break.

“About three or four years ago, we had a product called Peachtree, which is accounting software,” Houillon says. “We renamed it to Sage Peachtree, but after a while, everyone just went back to calling it Peachtree.”

The leaders at Sage quickly discovered it was necessary to completely rename the product under the Sage brand, and it was relaunched as “Sage 50.”

“What we have done is to redefine the global value proposition, and by doing that, what we have done is analyze all of the product brand value propositions and move them to a Sage brand value proposition,” Houillon says. “It adds more value to the Sage brand, and it helps us explain how all of our employees play a big role in this new connection and this move to a new brand.

“We want our customers to see excitement about the move. We don’t want them to call up and get a sense of resistance from the employees they encounter. If the customers see a sense of excitement among the employees, they’ll see that the change is a good thing.”

However, Houillon acknowledges that performing a fundamental branding change often means taking a step back to clear the path for a leap forward, and all that you can do as the leader is continually reassure your people that you’re making the right move for the company.

“This isn’t a linear progression,” he says. “Embedding a new vision with employees is a process that will create fear and expectation at the same time. Most of the time, things won’t improve right away. In fact, things will often get worse at the beginning. But things can’t get worse forever, and once you’ve reached that point, you try to build success.

“That’s why you need to be transparent; you need to explain exactly what is going on and what will happen. If you let your people believe that everything is going to be better simply because you’re changing, that is a big mistake. You have to be flexible and pragmatic in a time of transition and let your people know that when things go wrong and mistakes are made, it’s a normal part of the process.”

How to reach: Sage North America, (866) 996-7243 or na.sage.com

 

The Houillon file

Pascal Houillon

President and CEO

Sage North America

Born: Lyon, France

History: Houillon joined Sage in 1989 in sales and held a number of management positions as a regional director and sales director before leading the Sybel business when it was acquired by Sage in 1995. In 1997, he became CEO of Sage France, and in 2005 he also took on responsibility for Sage in Belgium, Brazil, Switzerland, and Morocco.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Being patient, which is sometimes not one of my qualities, I will say. As a leader, you tend to be very strong-willed, which means not only do you know where you want to go, you can get upset if it’s not exactly the road you want to take. That’s why you need to show some degree of patience with others. You need to be clear about where you’re going, but flexible about the road taken.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

You need to always have a mentality where you’re willing to question the work you have done. You have to be a bit of a paranoiac in that you’re never satisfied with the work you have done, that you’re always looking at your work with a critical eye. You always want to do things better, and that has to be a constant in the way you think.

What is your definition of success?

When our customers say we’ve had an impact on their company. If we can make a positive difference to our customers, at the end of the day that’s success to me.

Published in Orange County

Currently, more than half of employers in the U.S. are blocking workplace social media access. They give a number of reasons for blocking access to social media sites.

Most prevalent, those employers believe time spent on social networks is lost productivity that the company will never regain, so when you block social media, you know your employees are spending time doing their work.

But the reality is employees who were time wasters before social media are still going to have productivity issues. A recent survey by OfficeTeam showed that 22 percent of respondents working for companies that blocked social networking, shopping and entertainment sites admitted to frequently using their personal mobile devices as a workaround.

Any employee with a smartphone can access social media sites and the Internet, even if access is restricted via workplace computers. When access is blocked, employees are prone to take more work breaks or spend time finding a way to access restricted sites.

If you block social media access for your employees, it might be time to take a look at your company’s policy. Social media access might not be the problem. Here are some other things to consider.

Increased productivity

According to a study conducted by the University of Melbourne, employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. The study went on to explain that employees who rewarded themselves by visiting their social media pages between the completion of work tasks accomplished 9 percent more than their blocked counterparts.

Increased productivity doesn’t stop in the physical workplace. Employers who embrace social platforms also enable workers to be able to work virtually from nearly any location. From home or on the go, networked employees are completing tasks.

Attracting and retaining workers

According to a survey of 870 employers and employees by recruitment company Hays, almost 20 percent of job applicants say they will turn down a job if they do not have reasonable access to social networking sites.

About half of those surveyed already accessed social media at work, with 13.3 percent accessing it daily and 36.4 percent checking occasionally.

As for employers surveyed, 44.3 percent believed that allowing employees access to social media at work will improve retention levels, and a third already gave their staff access to it.

Only 23.7 percent of employers allowed no access to social media sites.

So how should you define your social media policy? Here are some questions to ask.

  • How do you expect social media to be used during work hours? Define proper and improper use of work equipment.
  • Will you offer full or limited access?
  • What restrictions or parameters will be placed on workplace usage?
  • How will you monitor employee social network activity for any excessive use? Employees will need to understand that they have no right to privacy with regard to social media in the workplace, and as the employer, you have the right to monitor or retrieve data pertaining to their social media usage at work.
  • How will you deal with any employee misuse?
  • Are you going to encourage employees to leverage social media as a business tool or will you restrict its use as a business tool? If you have concerns about the sharing of the company’s confidential information, you will need to outline confidentiality guidelines.

Don’t issue a blanket policy banning all social media speech about the business; it could get you in trouble. Instead, craft a policy limiting use during work hours and banning false statements, circulation of proprietary information and profanity related to management or co-workers. Have your lawyer review all social media policies prior to introducing them to your employees.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria, Shazaaam PR and Promo Marketing Team. Reach her at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit

Leaders rely on people at all levels to provide essential contributions to company decisions. Yet real people have flaws. Information and decisions can get filtered, even in good faith ways, on their way through the company power structure to leaders. Understanding this human phenomenon can help leaders avoid its pitfalls.

Fear and survival

Scientists refer to survival as the organizing principle of the brain. When our brain perceives a threat to survival, it triggers a fear reaction. This reaction gave primitive humans a better chance of staying alive. Humans who lived on passed these traits to future generations.

Although the fear reaction is essential to our survival, in modern humans it can also be disruptive. That’s because our brain triggers a mostly unconscious reaction to its perception of threats. Under this condition, the brain loses its ability to correctly interpret subtle clues from the environment, reverts to familiar behaviors, loses some of its ability to perceive relationships and patterns, and tends to overreact in a phobic way.

The following are some examples.

? Fairness: Fairness matters to humans, so the brain perceives unfairness as a threat. It can be so powerful that some people are willing to fight or die for causes involving justice, fairness and equality. When this occurs in the workplace, employees may unknowingly reject new facts or select and use data in a self-serving way in order to “restore fairness.”

? Ambiguity: When our brain perceives uncertainty or confusion, the fear reaction is aroused. It’s like having your computer freeze. Until it’s resolved, it’s difficult to focus on other things. Uncertainty registers as something that must be corrected and people may see patterns in random data where none exist or underestimate their own shortcomings as the brain attempts to “feel comfortable again.”

? Control: The degree of perceived control determines if a fear reaction will be triggered. For example, not being able to exercise routine decisions without perceived overinvolvement of a supervisor can easily generate fear. Then we may unknowingly defend decisions made solely on snap judgments or subconsciously conform our thinking to that of the group. It can develop into a problem that impacts creativity and innovation.

? Trust: The quality of decisions depends on healthy relationships. In the brain, each time we interact, we unconsciously make a quick friend-or-foe distinction depending on the context. When the person is perceived as competition, survival circuits may be triggered. Spinning and/or withholding information from the next level of management are a few of the possible results.

? Social status: We are biologically predisposed to threats to our social status in the workplace as part of our survival programming. As a result, supervisors may have the nonconscious tendency to marginalize people who disagree with them. Similarly, people may avoid disrupting group beliefs if it serves to improve their social status.

Encourage self-assessment

As you can see, each day at work is filled with moments of perceived survival. When reactions occur, people are just not in touch with their thinking. It can unknowingly affect fact gathering, analysis, insights, judgments, decisions and performance. Personal strategies may be obscure and not apparent even to those who are using them.

Using this insight to improve results requires two things: No. 1, it requires employees to understand how human tendencies can impact their decisions, and No. 2, it requires management to set the tone by encouraging objective self-assessment of these nonconscious filters and candid communications throughout the organization.

Most important decisions rely on at least some subjective input by humans. To improve performance, leaders must take responsibility for creating an organization that is in touch with its thinking. Only then can we step out of the thousands of years of collective human conditioning and improve the quality of our decisions. <<

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is a consultant, the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” and the owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. For more information, visit www.curecorporatestupidity.

Published in Atlanta
Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Manufacturing-related books for CEOs

? The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Achieving and Sustaining Excellence

Larry E. Fast

Productivity Press, 266 pages

“The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence” provides a practical approach for implementing and sustaining business strategies that promote manufacturing excellence. The author explains how to inspire top-notch performance while creating an atmosphere that encourages leadership and mentoring.

He provides examples that illustrate how companies have achieved vertical and horizontal alignment, he explains how to instill a culture that sustains high-quality and world-class performance via 12 principles of manufacturing excellence, and he provides methods to track progress by plant and by function, emphasizing lean manufacturing and Six Sigma tools to improve manufacturing operations.

? The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development

Jeffrey Liker, Gary Convis

McGraw-Hill, 272 pages

Many companies across the globe have adopted lean manufacturing practices but few have attained or maintained the levels of excellence that Toyota has. “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” sheds light on some of the reasons for this.

Liker and Convis (the former is the author of the popular “Toyota Way” series, the latter a former executive VP and managing officer of Toyota) offer practical ways for executives to spur their employees to focus their efforts on collaborating with co-workers to drive continuous improvement throughout the organization. Case studies demonstrate the methods Toyota uses to produce powerful, capable lean leadership.

? Supply Chain Transformation: Building and Executing an Integrated Supply Chain Strategy

J. Paul Dittmann

McGraw-Hill, 256 pages

As manufacturers expand their offerings and look for new ways to lower their cost structures, the complexity of their supply chain naturally increases. “Supply Chain Transformation” tackles this issue head-on, introducing a strategic framework aimed at helping manufacturers develop a first-class supply chain strategy.

Dittmann presents nine clear, concise steps for manufacturing executives to follow as they retool to improve their company’s management of supply chain dynamics. The book contains numerous real-world examples that illustrate the difficulties inherent in gaining organizational support for the major investments involved in reworking a company’s supply chain strategy. <<

Published in National

Talk about getting hit with severe hardship right off the bat. In 2008, SRS Real Estate Partners split off to become a standalone company when its parent, Staubach Co., merged with another real estate firm. Then, a month later, the U.S. financial crisis began and flipped SRS’s world upside down.

“We sold all of the Staubach Co. assets to Jones Lang LaSalle except the retail business,” recalls Chris Maguire, SRS’s chairman and CEO. “We closed the sale in August 2008. We were just starting to adjust to life without Staubach. Then we got hit with the financial crisis.”

Virtually all U.S. business sectors were affected by the subsequent recession, but two markets that suffered especially abrupt, deep and lasting cuts were real estate and retail. And those markets are SRS’s bread and butter.

“In the real estate industry, I think anyone would tell you that of the four food groups, the retail business got hurt the most, because it’s led by consumers, and consumers got hammered,” Maguire says.

“When retailers shut their pipelines down in September and October 2008, it resulted in dramatic revenue declines for our business. Our brokerage business, peak to trough, was off 60 percent. And that went on for about two years before we were able to stabilize our business.”

The downturn was a rude shock for SRS. The company found itself thrown back on its heels with business drying up and bad economic news coming from all directions.

“We weren’t sure where the world was headed, much less how we were going to adapt our business,” Maguire says. “It was a scary, unbelievably uncertain time for our business.”

Get back to basics

As SRS’s revenue began to take a dive in the last quarter of 2008, the company’s leadership team members got together and circled the wagons. The threat level they faced was hyper-urgent. They had to find a way to rally their staff and stanch the bleeding.

“The first six months was the worst,” Maguire recalls. “Today, I remind our people all the time about that: Don’t forget how bad it was from September 2008 to March 2009. We really didn’t know what was going to happen to our business.”

The first thing SRS’s leaders recognized they had to do was to guide the company back to the basics of what had made it successful during the two decades-plus that it had operated as a unit of Staubach Co.

“What we realized we had to do was drill down to our core business,” Maguire says. “And our core business at SRS is transactions. We receive fees when transactions are executed. As long as transactions are taking place, that’s how we get paid.”

The financial crisis slammed the retail sector hard, and SRS began feeling the reverberations immediately.

“It was unlike anything I had seen in my career,” Maguire says. “We started seeing retailers who for years had been growing their business by opening new locations not only shut down their new-growth pipelines, but they also were scrambling to figure out how to get out of some of the deals they’d previously committed to.”

Therein, though, lay a key to SRS’s chances to reverse the tide and get back on its feet. Transactions were still taking place in the retail real estate business. It’s just that they were transactions of a different type than the Staubach Co.’s retail division had been used to seeing in normal economic times.

“We were clearly going from a period of growth to a period of contraction,” Maguire says. “That meant our clients were going to need help on the disposition side — getting rid of dark stores, restructuring existing leases. And our landlord clients were going to be doing a similar type of thing: Trying to figure out how to lease their centers in a very uncertain economic environment.

“So we knew the market was going to be difficult for growth. As a result, we had to focus on where the transactions would be. We had to shift from being a business focused on retailers growing to a business focused on retailers shrinking.”

Manage tough transitions

While SRS’s leaders and staff members knew retail real estate transactions were out there, uncovering them proved to be a tough learning curve for the company.

“It was rocky,” Maguire says. “Really, for 24 months, it was very tough going for us.”

Exacerbating the business problems were issues of insecurity related to SRS’s parting with its longtime parent company.

“We were not only dealing with an uncertain economic environment and a continual stream of bad news as it related to the consumer and retailers, we also were dealing with a company that for 22 years had been part of the Staubach organization and was now split off on its own,” Maguire says.

“So we got the double whammy there. It was hard enough going through an economic period that none of us have ever experienced, but to compound it, we were trying to teach our people that life is going to be OK without Staubach.”

The former football star had been an inspirational business leader, and many in the company found it difficult to adjust to having new leaders.

“It was hard for some people to grasp that, for it to sink in,” Maguire says. “Roger was an incredible leader. He had a great reputation. Being part of that company was important to people. And, well, I’m not Roger Staubach; I don’t have a Heisman in my trophy case. But I’ve been in this business for a long time, and our management team has been together for a long time.

“So we had to focus on the details, and on stabilizing our business. We had to focus on teaching our people how to deal with the market and the realities of where the transactions in the retail business were happening at that time, which were very different than where they’d been for the last 20 years.”

During the recession’s deepest depths, staff morale was a particularly tough issue to deal with for SRS’s leaders.

“We’re in a business where most of our people on the SRS side are independent contractors,” Maguire says. “They’re brokers that get paid commissions. It was hard to motivate them, as well as our own employees, when all they read in the papers every day and all they watch on TV is bad news. They walk into the office with their head down every day.

“We had to find a way to show them that, ‘Look, you can’t think about this day to day. You’ve got to ignore the bad news. You’ve got to come in here and focus on what you need to get done. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve been through a number of cycles, and we will get through this. But it’s going to be tough, day to day. It’s going to be a marathon.’ And that’s clearly what it turned out to be.”

Focus on the achievable

For a few months, Maguire and his leadership team found their own morale running low, and that made it extremely difficult to motivate their staff. They learned that they would have to dig deep to find reserves of strength and hope within themselves.

“It was hard because none of us had ever experienced a downturn like this,” he says. “There were times early on when I stood up in front of our company and said, ‘Look, we’ve got to focus on our core business; we’ve got to focus on our history and our track record and the fact that there will be transactions there; if we do these things, we’re going to be OK’ — and for about six to eight months, I’m not sure I even believed it. But I had to get up there and project a positive attitude.”

Concentrating on taking small steps and improving the company’s standing little by little was an approach that began to turn the tide for SRS.

“There was nothing we could do at that time that was going to dramatically slow the decline in our revenue or stop retailers from shutting stores and from shutting off the new growth,” Maguire says.

“So we had to focus on small, achievable goals and wins. I looked at the situation and said, ‘Any progress we can make day to day is important.’ At the beginning of the downturn, five out of five days in the week were bad days. My goal initially was to just find a way to have one good day a week, then two good days a week, then three good days a week.

“Even in good times, not every day is going to be a success, and you’re going to have problems. But we really had to get our people focused on, ‘OK, what are you going to do today? How can we make a difference with these clients who we’ve had long-term relationships with, who still need our help — they just need it in a different way?’”

Not everyone was able to adapt to the new business realities that SRS faced. Some of the company’s longtime staff members found themselves unable to make the transitions that needed to be made.

“We had some people who had rode the wave for a decade,” Maguire says. “They were surfing a wave that was cruising along, and all of a sudden, that wave hit the rock shore and was gone, and those people got up in the morning and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ Our management team’s message to them was, ‘There are transactions out there. These retailers need our help. But you’ve got to get out and you’ve got to be proactive.’ And I’ll be honest with you: We had a number of people that had been very successful with our company that couldn’t hack it. And they had to go do something else.”

Be transparent

Communicating with staff is a tough thing to do when all of the news coming at you is bad, and Maguire concedes that he didn’t communicate very well at the beginning of the crisis.

“It was hard for me early on,” he says. “I like to communicate a plan: Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s our goal, here’s how we’re going to get there, here’s how the company’s doing financially.

“But everything was really uncertain. And I think probably one of my biggest mistakes early on was not communicating up front and talking about all the bad things — the bad news, the uncertainty. I had to work through that.

“My management team and others encouraged me to spend more time talking about those things: ‘Look, these are the challenges, and frankly, if this revenue decline doesn’t stop, we’re not going to have a business. So here’s what we’re facing. Let’s figure out how we can overcome it.’”

Thus, Maguire says a key piece of advice he would give CEOs facing a similar predicament is to be transparent and to convey all of the news clearly from the outset.

“Communication is the most important thing,” he says. “And not just the good news. Not just, ‘We have a plan.’ It’s much more than that. It’s, ‘Where is our business today, really? Where do we stand? Good, bad or ugly, let me know where we stand.’ And then, ‘Let’s put a plan in place to fix it.’

“One thing I’ve learned that I’m not sure I really appreciated before is that employees really want and need to know. I was concerned that if I give them too much bad news, they’re going to curl up and not be able to accept it. But the reality is people are smart and they deserve to know the real news, not just the CEO rah-rah.”

Eventually, haltingly, after rocky transitions and some shakeout, the U.S. retail business began to recover. And SRS’s business began to grow again as well. The 350-employee company now has about $45 million in annual revenue.

“For us, stabilization came when we saw the bottom,” Maguire says. “Our revenue flattened out, and then we started seeing growth. In fiscal 2010, we grew our business at just under 10 percent. Then for fiscal ’11, we were at 12 percent. And this year, we think we’ll be at 15 percent or so.

“Historically, our target has been 20 percent growth. As you get bigger, it becomes harder to hit that level because the numbers are bigger. But for us, we’d love to get back to 20 percent. It’s a bit of a stretch for us right now, but that’s our goal.” <<

How to reach: SRS Real Estate Partners, (214) 560-3200 or www.srsre.com

THE MAGUIRE FILE

Name: Chris Maguire

Title: Chairman and CEO

Company: SRS Real Estate Partners

Born: Trenton, N.J.

Education: University of Texas at Austin

What was your first job, and what business lessons did you learn from it?

My first job was delivering newspapers here in Dallas. It forced me to be accountable. I had to be there every morning on my bike picking the papers up and putting them on the doorsteps of all the people in the neighborhood, because if you didn’t deliver, they weren’t happy.

Also, we had to go out and knock on doors and collect the monthly fees for the papers, and some of those people were hard to collect from, but if I didn’t collect, I didn’t get paid. So that was some early insight into how the business world works.

Do you have a business leadership philosophy that you use to guide you?

In our business, you have two things you have to protect at all costs: your reputation and your relationships. If you do that, and you build a track record, you’re always going to do the right thing.

What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?

You’ve got to have vision. People want to work at companies that are going to grow, that are exciting, and that can be leaders in their industries. And in order to have that, you have to have a vision that’s not Disneyland. It has to be a vision that you can actually achieve over time.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Roger Staubach had a lot of good advice. One thing he said that has stuck with me over time is “There’s no traffic on the extra mile.” It’s about putting in extra effort and working a little harder, because most people don’t do it. Hard work doesn’t necessarily ensure success, but it goes a long way toward achieving it.

Published in Dallas

Richard Reif is well-versed on the subject of health care reform — and he should be. He had a 13-year head start on the government.

In 1997, more than a decade before President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, Reif worked with the leadership team at Doylestown Hospital to build a strategic plan around a series of building blocks designed to promote many of the same areas of emphasis now outlined in the federal act.

Reif, the hospital’s longtime president and CEO who will retire in December, wanted to build an organization in which health care providers believe they have a duty to preserve health as much as they have an obligation to cure illness.

He wanted an organization that fostered alignment among all staff members who came in contact with a given patient — doctors, nurses and support staff all united with a common goal of providing a high-quality and seamless patient experience.

“We had a series of building blocks that I believed would be paramount to our long-term success,” Reif says. “I testified before Congress that year on the issue of how we needed to transform health care. It was the origin of a lot of things that were proposed in the (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). We have used those fundamental building blocks to help drive who we are, always coming back to what benefits the patient and the patient’s family.”

But building that kind of organization wasn’t as simple as posting a mission statement over the entrance door. It required Reif and his team to define what Doylestown Hospital stood for as both a business and a health care entity and what it meant to work for the hospital. He then had to focus 2,000 associates and 900 volunteers on those core beliefs, keeping the message in front of existing staff and introducing the message to new staff.

In short, it took consistent and tireless communication.

Know who you are

Every business has an identity. Defining that identity, however, can be a difficult and ongoing process. Organizations, like the people who comprise them, don’t easily fit into prefabricated molds.

But defining what you are as an organization is essential to developing your mission and core values.

At Doylestown Hospital, Reif draws heavily on the organization’s history to chart a course for the future. The Village Improvement Association, a local women’s group that still owns the hospital, founded the hospital in 1923. The hospital was founded as a product of one of the association’s missions — to promote health and wellness in the Doylestown community.

With that as a guiding beacon, Reif put his effort into preserving and improving the hospital as a resource for health and wellness in the immediate area, closely embracing that identity.

“We don’t do a lot of teaching and we don’t do a lot of research,” Reif says. “We do a bit of both, but that isn’t our primary emphasis. We want to stay focused on our patients and serving them to the best of our ability.”

Often, companies and organizations try to define themselves by the business they conduct instead of the people they serve. Your list of clients might be impressive, your product might be cutting-edge and your services might have helped you carve out a lucrative niche.

But if you can’t identify the positive impact your company makes on the people you ultimately serve, you’re not doing a good job of identifying your company’s reason for being, which in turn, could have a damaging effect on your ability to promote your culture and motivate your employees to do their best work.

“Whether I’m relating the concept to people in this area or outside this area, you tend to find a universal problem in that people can have a tendency to lose where their focus is meant to be,” Reif says.

“Sometimes, you worry more about the business scale of what you’re doing as opposed to what and who you are ultimately impacting. That’s especially important in our field due to the nature of our work. Hospitals and schools are two great examples of organizations in which you should know what you should be doing.”

Reif learned the value of developing and maintaining an organizational identity early in his career, when he worked at a pair of Quaker hospitals.

“I came to learn a lot about myself as well, as well as what you need to do to emphasize the importance and value of the people you serve,” he says. “I believe my job is to create an environment where those people can achieve their sense of inspiration.”

To build an organizational identity around developing relationships and serving your customers, you need to give your employees — especially the employees who directly face your customers — the tools and resources necessary to foster those relationships and maintain them over the long haul.

“One of the things we do and communicate is the whole issue of our values and our responsiveness and giving the people the tools they need to be successful,” Reif says. “It can be continuing education, it can be the right equipment, it can be the right work environment. It can be that you try to cultivate a sense of respect between departments or a sense of functional respect between doctors and associates. But you’re ultimately trying to focus on a series of things that are all related back to the mission and the core values.”

Live the culture

Reif couldn’t build an organization that promotes alignment and accountability without a strong culture to serve as its backbone. Building and maintaining the culture was an essential first step.

A company’s culture lives and breathes through the actions of its employees. But you don’t get the desired actions without employees who have a firm belief in the mission and values of the organization. It needs to start with the hiring process, when you identify the job candidates who you think have the personality and individual values needed to mesh with your organizational values.

But if you don’t seed and cultivate your culture within those people, all you’ll ever have is raw materials and a workforce full of unrealized potential.

That’s why Reif gets involved in the training of new Doylestown Hospital employees from their first week on the job.

“I am in my 24th year now in this position, and I do virtually every new associate orientation,” Reif says. “We start with the premise that we are all aimed in the same direction, and I emphasize our sense of responsibility to our mission and our values. We reinforce that in any way we possibly can, no matter what topic. Where we are, how people are evaluated, how we make decisions — it always comes back to the mission.”

Once new employees are up to speed with how health care and business are conducted at the hospital, Reif further reinforces the culture through the stories of patients — the consumers of the hospital’s end products and services. By putting a human face on the ultimate product of the work each employee does, you demonstrate the ultimate benefit that the work of each person has to the end consumer.

“We have a major fundraiser every spring, and this year, we had 80 to 100 women involved,” Reif says. “As I was thanking them for their involvement in the effort, I reminded them why we were raising the money. This year, it happened to be that they’re raising money for a maternity unit, so in my presentation, I put pictures of four newborn babies on the screen.

“Another time, at the end of our budget approval for the following fiscal year, we had a board meeting. I showed our board 10 pictures of patients living with cancer. They’re people who we are treating, who agreed to be photographed for this presentation. I put their pictures in front of everyone and told their story. In both cases, showing the babies we delivered and the cancer patients we’re treating, it reminds us why we’re here as an organization.

“We share stories of patient successes, and even the times when we fail a patient. We need to learn from those stories as well. It always comes back to who we are serving.”

Reif says the real-life examples serve as a means of showing empathy. Effective leaders need to foster a sense of empathy within their organizations. That includes empathy between employees and management and empathy between those inside and outside the company.

If management does a good job of instilling a sense of empathy within the culture, that feeling will trickle down to the relationship your employees have with the people you serve — be they customers, clients or, in the case of Doylestown Hospital, patients.

“You have to be empathetic to your people,” Reif says. “You have to listen. If I’m showing empathy to the people who work here, the associates and why we value that, they are going to be more empathetic with regard to their relationship with the patients.

“If I remember who is providing the patient care and I treat them with respect, they’re going to continue that relationship with the people they come into contact with, which includes the patients and their families. Again, it’s always coming back to who you serve and what you are as an organization.” <<

How to reach: Doylestown Hospital, (215) 345-2200

or www.dh.org

Richard Reif, president and CEO, Doylestown Hospital

The Reif file

Born: I was born in Baltimore. I actually went on to become the CEO of the hospital I was born in, Union Memorial Hospital.

Education: Zoology degree from the University of Maryland; Hospital administration degree from the Medical College of Virginia (now VCU Medical Center).

First job: My first real job was as a Good Humor truck driver when I was 18. The following year I started working in hospitals.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I learned to be genuine and be yourself, and find an organization that values you. Those are the two most important things: be sincere and fit the organization.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

Empathy, listening and consensus-building. Those are three things that Quakers do very well. In my time at Quaker hospitals, I learned to conceptualize, think long-term and be a steward to the community.

What is your definition of success?

It is a statement more than a set of criteria, and I can quote it from you. My wife and I both live by it: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” (Attributed to William Penn.)

Published in Philadelphia

The topic of succession planning had been on the table for quite some time for Andy Morrison and his fellow co-founders at Market Strategies International. But it wasn’t until 2006 that the clock really started ticking.

“We started to understand, really around 2000, that as we matured in the business, it was time for us to start thinking about who would be our successors, really under the condition that we wanted the firm to remain independent,” Morrison says. “That is when we started to think about a succession plan and a succession strategy for our positions.

“But in 2006, we acquired a private equity partner, Veronis Suhler Stevenson, and that was really the second stage of succession planning because now we had an outside partner and a board of directors.”

As a component of the partnership, Veronis Suhler Stevenson mandated that Market Strategies look for add-on acquisitions, particularly companies that had younger leadership.

“That was a main part of the criteria for any acquisition, that we find young-but-seasoned management who would be in the business for a considerable period of time and could potentially become companywide leaders once they joined our organization,” Morrison says.

In 2007, Market Strategies acquired Doxus, a marketing and product strategy consulting firm, bringing Rob Stone into the fold. Morrison and the leadership team quickly identified Stone as someone with high growth potential in a leadership role and began grooming him in an executive vice president’s role.

In February, Morrison — the company’s CEO since 1994 — decided to step down, effective March 31, transitioning into the chairman’s role. Satisfied with Stone’s development, the leadership team offered Stone the CEO’s position, which he readily accepted.

That’s the short version. In reality, it wasn’t as simple as Morrison stepping down and Stone stepping up. Over the course of many months, Morrison and Stone worked together, along with the rest of Market Strategies’ executive team, to develop and execute a detailed succession plan that fell in line with the overall goals of the market research and consulting firm and to communicate it to everyone in the company.

Lay the groundwork

A good succession plan is a road map. It shows you where you need to go and what possible routes you can take to get there, so that you and your team can plan the safest and most prudent route for your business.

The preparedness of the leadership team is something that made an immediate impression on Stone when he joined Market Strategies in 2007.

“That is one of the factors that worked well in our favor,” Stone says. “Andy and the entire cohort of founding managers have always been very transparent in the company regarding what their plans are, what the timelines are — because it is critical for people to understand what the road map looks like so that these sorts of changes don’t come as a surprise.”

The transparency is the result of an ongoing dialogue among the top managers in the company. The communication among the members of the management team gave Stone and George Wilkerson — who was named president at the same time Stone was named CEO — an opportunity to have a voice in the decision-making process as the future of the company took shape.

“There is a level of unnecessary surprise that can mar succession planning,” Stone says. “The communication process, which allowed myself and George to be completely invested and present in the key strategic decisions that the company has been making, helped remove that. It also has helped us to be more available and present to the staff at large.

“It has always been clear to our people as to who has an ongoing voice in the management of the company, who were the people on the executive committee and who were the people authoring the strategic three-year plans.”

Even though Stone and Wilkerson were involved as members of the leadership team, their consideration for the top spots in the organization wasn’t automatic. Market Strategies conducted a lengthy search that narrowed the field down, first to an internally focused search, and then specifically to Stone and Wilkerson.

Morrison and his team initially looked at candidates both inside and outside the organization. They wanted their ideal candidates to possess a number of qualities, including areas of expertise that Morrison’s team didn’t possess, such as experience with international markets.

Developing a list of essential qualities that every leadership candidate must have is a critical component to the hiring process. Along with international experience, Morrison and his team constructed a list of other qualities needed to successfully lead Market Strategies, which generated $75 million in revenue during 2011, Morrison’s final full year as CEO.

“On the established leadership team, we knew we had to think about who the replacements might be, and that was very much spurred by the integration process,” Morrison says. “We knew we wanted to add younger businesspeople who had played a big part in running their own companies. They knew how to meet a payroll, they knew what it takes to manage a business.”

However, along with the valuable experience and skills comes baggage. Incoming leaders learn how to manage according to the rules of their previous company, and assimilating them can take a certain amount of deprogramming and reprogramming.

“The baggage manifests itself in a number of different ways,” Morrison says. “Their own track record can work against us. They might have had to sign significant noncompete agreements that create major barriers to them holding a management role at another firm.

“Age was another factor. Some other people we talked to had a similar age to myself and those of us who were already leading the firm, which meant there was no real advantage in terms of bringing them aboard in a successor capacity, since they were probably looking at retirement as well.”

Morrison never hired a third-party search firm, but he and his team did work with a consultant on an informal basis. The consultant helped Morrison refine the criteria for evaluating a leadership candidate, which ultimately led to a focus on internal candidates.

“He is a trusted industry adviser and ran one of the largest firms in the industry at one point,” Morrison says. “He helped give us the final insight regarding what he saw as the advantages and disadvantages of internal succession planning candidates versus external.

“When you add all of that up, it really did lead to the fact that we did have candidates internally who were going to be as well-qualified and well-positioned as we could have hoped for. That is what convinced me that we would be fine selecting from the people who were already managers in the organization, as opposed to people who were on the outside.”

Step into the role

The transition occurred at the end of March, but soon after Morrison and his team zeroed in on Stone as their CEO candidate of choice, they began to train him for his role. One of the chief responsibilities Stone needed to master is that of communication.

It’s perhaps the biggest difference between a leader and an assistant. The leader needs to oversee the entire organization, not just a piece of the pie. An assistant coach in football or basketball might only take charge of the offense or defense. He might manage a section of the playbook. But the head coach has to bring every player on the roster together and unite all of the players around a common set of goals.

That means the head coach, much like a CEO, has to know how to communicate effectively to a large audience.

In the six months prior to their formal appointments, Stone and Wilkerson ramped up their interaction with the entire Market Strategies workforce. It was a job with an added degree of difficulty due to the acquisitions the company had made in recent years, which meant a portion of the company’s employees weren’t originally members of the legacy company — including Stone and Wilkerson.

“That was one of the concerns for the people here who had been a part of the legacy Market Strategies for quite a while,” Stone says. “They wanted to know what this means, if anything, for our culture because the people now leading the company at an executive level are not the people who founded it and led it for the first couple decades of its existence.”

Stone’s primary location was another area of concern for employees. Stone is based in the Atlanta area and decided at the outset of the transition that he had no desire to relocate to the Detroit area. He would, instead, visit the company’s Livonia headquarters on a regular basis while primarily operating out of Atlanta.

“We had to ask ourselves if that really matters anymore,” Morrison says. “Does it really matter if all the C-level officers live in one place? We’re a smaller firm, but I had to ask myself how a Ford Motor Co. operates when their leadership is literally worldwide, with senior officers on every continent. In this day and age, if you haven’t learned to communicate worldwide, you’re in trouble from the get-go. You need to be able to effectively communicate worldwide.”

With modern communication technology, you can effectively run a business with executives, managers and employees in different locations. But it also creates an added set of challenges for someone in Stone’s position.

Most critically, if you aren’t there in person each day to promote the vision and strategy of the organization, someone else needs to be communicating in your place. Otherwise, you run the risk of complacency setting in.

It’s something that Stone has worked at tirelessly in the months since he’s taken over the CEO’s role and something that he’ll continue to work at as he fine-tunes his approach.

“That’s the danger in an internal transition, particularly if you’re running an organization with several lines of business,” Stone says. “To answer that, George and I are continually ramping up our communication, particularly to the next group of leadership candidates that we hire. We want to impart the best practices that we would hope leadership candidates would abide by. Their first priority upon accepting their new role is to get out there, talk to people, be present and available.

“It’s easy to get complacent. If you’re transitioning into a new role from another place within the organization, you can kind of become complacent yourself. You can take it for granted that people throughout the company know you, that the people on your team know you.

“That’s why, when you are assuming a new role like this, you need to put as much attention and care as is possible into reaching out to your people, getting your message into all of your various offices and locations.” <<

How to reach: Market Strategies International,

(734) 542-7600 or www.marketstrategies.com

The file

Andy Morrison, chairman, Market Strategies International

Rob Stone, CEO, Market Strategies International

Education

Morrison: Doctorate in mass communications research and bachelor's degree in English and journalism with a teaching certificate, University of Michigan.

Stone: Doctorate in cultural studies, Columbia University.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Morrison: Constant communication, which includes both talking and listening. Everybody emphasizes listening nowadays, but you also have to be an effective talker.

Stone: You have to be absolutely dedicated to the success of your clients and colleagues. It seems like one of the simplest lessons to learn, but it is one that is seldom learned.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

Morrison: You need integrity in every sense of the word. You need to be open and transparent in your communication, and deliver on the promises that you make to clients and employees. I also admire decisiveness. Make a decision and set in motion the steps you need to get to the result you want. That is something that is critical to me.

Stone: I would add that you need to convey passion for what you do. That is a big part of our job as leaders, to constantly convey the passion and excitement we feel to all of our teams.

Published in Detroit
Friday, 26 October 2012 11:54

The topic of succession planning had been on the table for quite some time for Andy Morrison and his fellow co-founders at Market Strategies International. But it wasn’t until 2006 that the clock really started ticking.

“We started to understand, really around 2000, that as we matured in the business, it was time for us to start thinking about who would be our successors, really under the condition that we wanted the firm to remain independent,” Morrison says. “That is when we started to think about a succession plan and a succession strategy for our positions.

“But in 2006, we acquired a private equity partner, Veronis Suhler Stevenson, and that was really the second stage of succession planning because now we had an outside partner and a board of directors.”

As a component of the partnership, Veronis Suhler Stevenson mandated that Market Strategies look for add-on acquisitions, particularly companies that had younger leadership.

“That was a main part of the criteria for any acquisition, that we find young-but-seasoned management who would be in the business for a considerable period of time and could potentially become companywide leaders once they joined our organization,” Morrison says.

In 2007, Market Strategies acquired Doxus, a marketing and product strategy consulting firm, bringing Rob Stone into the fold. Morrison and the leadership team quickly identified Stone as someone with high growth potential in a leadership role and began grooming him in an executive vice president’s role.

In February, Morrison — the company’s CEO since 1994 — decided to step down, effective March 31, transitioning into the chairman’s role. Satisfied with Stone’s development, the leadership team offered Stone the CEO’s position, which he readily accepted.

That’s the short version. In reality, it wasn’t as simple as Morrison stepping down and Stone stepping up. Over the course of many months, Morrison and Stone worked together, along with the rest of Market Strategies’ executive team, to develop and execute a detailed succession plan that fell in line with the overall goals of the market research and consulting firm and to communicate it to everyone in the company.

Lay the groundwork

A good succession plan is a road map. It shows you where you need to go and what possible routes you can take to get there, so that you and your team can plan the safest and most prudent route for your business.

The preparedness of the leadership team is something that made an immediate impression on Stone when he joined Market Strategies in 2007.

“That is one of the factors that worked well in our favor,” Stone says. “Andy and the entire cohort of founding managers have always been very transparent in the company regarding what their plans are, what the timelines are — because it is critical for people to understand what the road map looks like so that these sorts of changes don’t come as a surprise.”

The transparency is the result of an ongoing dialogue among the top managers in the company. The communication among the members of the management team gave Stone and George Wilkerson — who was named president at the same time Stone was named CEO — an opportunity to have a voice in the decision-making process as the future of the company took shape.

“There is a level of unnecessary surprise that can mar succession planning,” Stone says. “The communication process, which allowed myself and George to be completely invested and present in the key strategic decisions that the company has been making, helped remove that. It also has helped us to be more available and present to the staff at large.

“It has always been clear to our people as to who has an ongoing voice in the management of the company, who were the people on the executive committee and who were the people authoring the strategic three-year plans.”

Even though Stone and Wilkerson were involved as members of the leadership team, their consideration for the top spots in the organization wasn’t automatic. Market Strategies conducted a lengthy search that narrowed the field down, first to an internally focused search, and then specifically to Stone and Wilkerson.

Morrison and his team initially looked at candidates both inside and outside the organization. They wanted their ideal candidates to possess a number of qualities, including areas of expertise that Morrison’s team didn’t possess, such as experience with international markets.

Developing a list of essential qualities that every leadership candidate must have is a critical component to the hiring process. Along with international experience, Morrison and his team constructed a list of other qualities needed to successfully lead Market Strategies, which generated $75 million in revenue during 2011, Morrison’s final full year as CEO.

“On the established leadership team, we knew we had to think about who the replacements might be, and that was very much spurred by the integration process,” Morrison says. “We knew we wanted to add younger businesspeople who had played a big part in running their own companies. They knew how to meet a payroll, they knew what it takes to manage a business.”

However, along with the valuable experience and skills comes baggage. Incoming leaders learn how to manage according to the rules of their previous company, and assimilating them can take a certain amount of deprogramming and reprogramming.

“The baggage manifests itself in a number of different ways,” Morrison says. “Their own track record can work against us. They might have had to sign significant noncompete agreements that create major barriers to them holding a management role at another firm.

“Age was another factor. Some other people we talked to had a similar age to myself and those of us who were already leading the firm, which meant there was no real advantage in terms of bringing them aboard in a successor capacity, since they were probably looking at retirement as well.”

Morrison never hired a third-party search firm, but he and his team did work with a consultant on an informal basis. The consultant helped Morrison refine the criteria for evaluating a leadership candidate, which ultimately led to a focus on internal candidates.

“He is a trusted industry adviser and ran one of the largest firms in the industry at one point,” Morrison says. “He helped give us the final insight regarding what he saw as the advantages and disadvantages of internal succession planning candidates versus external.

“When you add all of that up, it really did lead to the fact that we did have candidates internally who were going to be as well-qualified and well-positioned as we could have hoped for. That is what convinced me that we would be fine selecting from the people who were already managers in the organization, as opposed to people who were on the outside.”

Step into the role

The transition occurred at the end of March, but soon after Morrison and his team zeroed in on Stone as their CEO candidate of choice, they began to train him for his role. One of the chief responsibilities Stone needed to master is that of communication.

It’s perhaps the biggest difference between a leader and an assistant. The leader needs to oversee the entire organization, not just a piece of the pie. An assistant coach in football or basketball might only take charge of the offense or defense. He might manage a section of the playbook. But the head coach has to bring every player on the roster together and unite all of the players around a common set of goals.

That means the head coach, much like a CEO, has to know how to communicate effectively to a large audience.

In the six months prior to their formal appointments, Stone and Wilkerson ramped up their interaction with the entire Market Strategies workforce. It was a job with an added degree of difficulty due to the acquisitions the company had made in recent years, which meant a portion of the company’s employees weren’t originally members of the legacy company — including Stone and Wilkerson.

“That was one of the concerns for the people here who had been a part of the legacy Market Strategies for quite a while,” Stone says. “They wanted to know what this means, if anything, for our culture because the people now leading the company at an executive level are not the people who founded it and led it for the first couple decades of its existence.”

Stone’s primary location was another area of concern for employees. Stone is based in the Atlanta area and decided at the outset of the transition that he had no desire to relocate to the Detroit area. He would, instead, visit the company’s Livonia headquarters on a regular basis while primarily operating out of Atlanta.

“We had to ask ourselves if that really matters anymore,” Morrison says. “Does it really matter if all the C-level officers live in one place? We’re a smaller firm, but I had to ask myself how a Ford Motor Co. operates when their leadership is literally worldwide, with senior officers on every continent. In this day and age, if you haven’t learned to communicate worldwide, you’re in trouble from the get-go. You need to be able to effectively communicate worldwide.”

With modern communication technology, you can effectively run a business with executives, managers and employees in different locations. But it also creates an added set of challenges for someone in Stone’s position.

Most critically, if you aren’t there in person each day to promote the vision and strategy of the organization, someone else needs to be communicating in your place. Otherwise, you run the risk of complacency setting in.

It’s something that Stone has worked at tirelessly in the months since he’s taken over the CEO’s role and something that he’ll continue to work at as he fine-tunes his approach.

“That’s the danger in an internal transition, particularly if you’re running an organization with several lines of business,” Stone says. “To answer that, George and I are continually ramping up our communication, particularly to the next group of leadership candidates that we hire. We want to impart the best practices that we would hope leadership candidates would abide by. Their first priority upon accepting their new role is to get out there, talk to people, be present and available.

“It’s easy to get complacent. If you’re transitioning into a new role from another place within the organization, you can kind of become complacent yourself. You can take it for granted that people throughout the company know you, that the people on your team know you.

“That’s why, when you are assuming a new role like this, you need to put as much attention and care as is possible into reaching out to your people, getting your message into all of your various offices and locations.” <<

How to reach: Market Strategies International,

(734) 542-7600 or www.marketstrategies.com

The Morrison/Stone file

Andy Morrison, chairman, Market Strategies International

Rob Stone, CEO, Market Strategies International

Education

Morrison: Doctorate in mass communications research and bachelor's degree in English and journalism with a teaching certificate, University of Michigan.

Stone: Doctorate in cultural studies, Columbia University.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Morrison: Constant communication, which includes both talking and listening. Everybody emphasizes listening nowadays, but you also have to be an effective talker.

Stone: You have to be absolutely dedicated to the success of your clients and colleagues. It seems like one of the simplest lessons to learn, but it is one that is seldom learned.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

Morrison: You need integrity in every sense of the word. You need to be open and transparent in your communication, and deliver on the promises that you make to clients and employees. I also admire decisiveness. Make a decision and set in motion the steps you need to get to the result you want. That is something that is critical to me.

Stone: I would add that you need to convey passion for what you do. That is a big part of our job as leaders, to constantly convey the passion and excitement we feel to all of our teams.

Published in Detroit